The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky by Brianna R. Shrum | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 3rd, 2020 by Sky Pony Press

“It’s freezing and dark because this is how it is with us; this is how we connected, so it’s fitting that this is where we wind up, kissing each other like we are both hungry.”

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky is YA Survival Story that had some very promising aspects to it but ultimately ended up not delivering when it came to unpacking them.

The story starts with a group of teens, most of them cousins, who all got together because of a sickness in the family, sneaking out to an abandoned ski slope, when they get hit with a sudden mudslide and are stranded on this mountain with nobody knowing where they are.

Our main character Hallie decides that she doesn’t wanna sit around and wait for help but to go and search for it herself. Jonah, her cousin Jaxon’s best friend, joins her and we follow them on their survival journey but also them getting to know each other better.

I have read two other books by Brianna Shrum that I really loved, so I was very excited to pick this novel up, even if it was slightly out of my comfort zone, as I do not usually reach for (Contemporary) Survival stories. But I was excited by the diversity aspects in this story and my love for the author’s earlier books, so I wanted to give it a chance.

Sadly, I did not end up being very satisfied with this novel and the elements in it. I think that there are a lot of intriguing aspects to it but ultimately the things that I would’ve wanted to read more about were either not talked about enough or just didn’t get the on-page time they deserved.

“We touch each other, under the black sky and a million stars that shine a million miles away, stars that make up the backdrop of this crucial twenty-four hours, this life-altering turn of a night, and that do not give a single shit about us. We are not imprinted in the memory of the stars. Anyway, it’s the vastness of the black that’s imprinted in mine.”

One of the very promising aspects of this story are the complex family dynamics that are portrayed. Hallie lived away from the rest of her big family for a long time and feels out of place in between them, even when she wants to be part of this cousin group so very badly.

She struggles with not getting inside jokes and just feeling like she doesn’t know everyone as well as they all know each other. On top of that, whenever there were family gatherings in the past, it seemed like her parents wanted to mostly keep her away from the rest of the family and making her feel like they would have a bad influence on her.

One aspect that plays into this is racism, which absolutely did not get unpacked enough in regards to Hallie’s parents. We find out about a conversation between Hallie’s dad and his brother, that Hallie overheard when she was younger, where they are having a fight and Hallie’s uncle asks if this is about him being married to a Black woman. And in that moment Hallie even thinks to herself that her uncle is probably right.

But that is the most that this ever really gets talked about. I know that it can be hard to challenge your parents about their racism, especially when it has to do with family relationships and it being something that you think might be out of your lane.
But apart from the fact that Hallie is acknowledging this and being upset by it, this is never really brought up again, even by anybody else. And it is not like Hallie is the picture-perfect daughter in this novel who never says anything against her parents.. the fact that the racism is never brought up by her, was really disappointing.

It seemed like the author was making a point later on in the novel about how the main character in general didn’t seem to be super well informed about (anti-Black) racism, when she has a conversation about the racism in Denver and other “liberal-leaning” cities with Jaxon, who is Afro-Latinx and studies Political science.
And while that obviously would be a very valid point to make, especially considering Hallie’s parents, there was not enough substance to this conversation and, again, the topic is never really brought up again when it comes to her parents and the fact that they have basically completely separated themselves from the rest of the family due to racism.

Plus, the conversation ends with Hallie making heart eyes at Jason because he is so passionate about fighting racism… instead of her actually processing what he said. And the topic gets brought up again later, when Jaxon tells Hallie about his dad having been in jail for 10 years for smoking weed and how that is a systematic issue that many Black men have to face. All Hallie has to say about this is that it “fucking sucks”.

I am going to talk about the Black character doing all the explaining to the white character later in the review but the thing is that there is just such a wasted opportunity here. The least Hallie could’ve done is to really listen and learn and to later on confront her parents about their racism and how it kept her from being close to her family. It honestly feels like Hallie doesn’t take anything away from this conversation whatsoever.

“When he pulls me toward him with the smallest pressure in the tips of his fingers and kisses me. It is so slow that it fucking hurts. I think that maybe I’ve never kissed anyone in my life.”

Now while I don’t think that the racism was handled very well, I think that a lot of the representation was done much better. There is Hallie being Jewish (which is ownvoices) and I liked that this novel used lots of Jewish terms and talked about traditions, while also acknowledging that there is a lot of layers to being Jewish and practising (or not practising) Judaism.

Jonah and Hallie also have a really great conversation about romantic and sexual attraction. Hallie identifies as bisexual and Jonah identifies as pansexual and aromantic and the aromantic and bisexual representation is an ownvoices aspect. Now while I cannot speak for any of these identities, I liked that the author took the time for the characters to really have a conversation about this. This is one of the few novels that actually explains what pansexual means, while also acknowledging that sexuality is a spectrum, which made me really happy to read about.

Jonah also talks about being aromantic and what that means for him. There was definitely an emphasis put on the fact that it does not mean that he is broken or incapable of love, which is so very important to point out. Jonah also mentions that he is not monogamous and explains it to Hallie too because she basically immediately assumes what he means is cheating, when he is talking about consensual polygamy.

Now I am grateful for these barely represented identities to be so well-explained in a novel but especially as I was writing this review, I realized how much explaining there was within this novel and that most of it came from Jonah. He keeps educating Hallie about all of these different things and the author even makes a point for Hallie to point out that she would do research herself, if she had internet, but it is a really cheap excuse for the one, main person of colour in this story to do all of the explaining.

“I am absolutely suffocated by the fact that I seem to have changed utterly while my parents simply have not. Nothing else has. Nothing but me.”

Apart from all of those glaring issues with this book, I also just didn’t enjoy the Survival part of this story much. I will say that that very well might be a me-problem because I obviously didn’t really go into this novel because of that aspect but because I was interested in the author’s work in general and the character dynamics. But I just ended up being bored by the Survival aspect because, while the stakes were supposed to feel high, they never really did.

I also couldn’t handle the stupidity of the main character and her companion leaving the group in the first place. Throughout this story I kept thinking about there being a good chance that this group had already been found while these two people are still wandering around, with absolutely no indication of where they could be for any help on the way.

The really interesting aspect of this story could’ve been the aftermath of this traumatic event. The last part of this book was so fucking good because it dealt with the main character trying to live a normal life after her time hiking through these mountains, fearing for her life.
But sadly that was truly only on the last couple of pages. The main character very clearly suffers from PTSD and depression and it is so interesting to read her inner monologue and her not understanding how everybody else can just move on with their lives when she just has been through such a life-altering event. I absolutely wish that this aspect would’ve taken up so much more time of this novel.

Especially as this is also where the relationship between Hallie and Jonah truly becomes fascinating because they have been through this together and understand each other better than anybody else. This is where we could’ve really discovered the bond between them and if and how their relationships develops.

“I care that, for this second, all there is is me and Jonah and a hundred trees that have no opinion, a solid dark that surrounds us, that lets us both just exist in a way that is shockingly alive. Shockingly … connected.”

I will say that I liked the nature of their relationship a lot and it is something that we really do not get to see in Young Adult. They had a strong bond, were physically affectionate and had sex but this is not a Romance. I think it is so important to show that two people can have a genuine connection with each other and have a physical relationship too, without them having romantic interest in each other or falling in love.

Lastly I do want to say that Hallie is 17 and in high school and Jonah is almost 20 and in college. I feel like I have become very aware of age in YA relationships and do find it important to point it out, even though I struggle to talk about it, especially as someone who did not grow up or has ever lived in the US.
But I know that for a lot of people, while this age gap isn’t big, it makes a huge difference that one is in college and one is in high school. There is even a conversation in the beginning where Jaxon says to Jonah “stay away from the high schooler” and while I understand that this was more like some kind of protective older sibling joke, it immediately left a bad taste in my mouth about their relationship.

Overall, I finished this novel feeling disappointed and that is very much the lingering feeling after writing my review too. I feel like this had a lot of potential and I do believe that the author had good intentions but ultimately, this sadly missed a mark.. or many.

Trigger and Content Warnings for underage cannabis use and drinking, blood, injury, loved one with a terminal illness, PTSD, depression.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“He has a part of me, and I’m the one with a gaping hole that can’t be fixed.”

Our Year of Maybe is an incredibly well done book about unrequited love and friendship break-ups, a topic that I think way too little YA books focus on.

This book has many layers to it. One of the core events of it is Sophie donating her kidney to her best friend Peter, who she is also in love with. They grew up together and are basically each other’s only friends, but we realize throughout the book that their friendship is not perfect and both of them struggle with what they give and want out of it.

Sophie is dyslexic and Jewish. Peter’s dad is Jewish and Peter is trying to connect more with Judaism. He is also bisexual and chronically ill.

“Our lives have revolved around Peter always. He is the earth, and I am the moon. There was never enough I could do to get him to love me the way I wanted, to see me as more than just a moon. I have never been enough, and he has always been too much.”

I was first and foremost interested in this book because I really enjoy books that focus on music and so having a main character who plays piano and another who is a dancer was an incredibly intriguing concept to me.

But as I was getting into this book, I absolutely stayed for the friendship dynamic. While I wouldn’t necessarily say the music aspect fell flat, it completely took a backseat with all of the other stuff going on in this novel.

“And that’s the horrible truth of it all, isn’t it? Peter could slash me open and steal my other kidney, and I would let him. If it would keep him alive, I’d dig it out for him myself.”

The feelings both of these characters have for each other are messy and I loved every second of reading about them trying to figure things out. What really works about this book is that both fuck up and both say mean things to each other. But it doesn’t feel wrong but more like everything they say and do is inevitable and rather like something that needed to be said for a long time, even if it might hurt.
Especially Sophie’s thoughts were always brutally honest and it was so interesting to see her grapple with the hopes she had of the kidney donation bringing her closer to Peter.

Sophie’s unrequited love was unbelievably well written and it really made me question if I have ever read it as such a main theme in a book. While I love romances in books, my own teenage experience came far closer to what Sophie was experiencing and I know that this is a book that I absolutely would’ve needed.
I definitely wish that this was something that would become much more common in YA.

“I love you,” I whisper to him before we’re taken into the operating room. “Me too,” he whispers back, and my last thought before I surrender to the anesthesia is: You have no idea how much.”

But this book is not only about how the relationship between them changes but also them reflecting on their friendship in general, and recognizing that it hasn’t been very healthy for a long time.
They realize how they depended on only each other for so long, that they never looked outside to see if there are other people they wanna be close with. Both Sophie and Peter come out of their shell with other friend groups and it is great to see them develop and really understand themselves for the first time.

There was also a very cute m/m romance in Peter’s storyline. While the relationship between Sophie and Peter is definitely the main focus of this book, the romance between Peter and his other love interest was super well developed and very lovely to read about.
And for anyone that is now wondering – no, this book has no cheating! There is definitely some slightly questionable behaviour but for me personally everything got talked about and resolved in such a way, that it made sense for the story line.

“That’s why uncertainty is so safe: I can wrap myself in this potentially unrequited love and never risk getting shut down.”

I feel like YA is more and more featuring sex scenes that are not fade-to-black and still manage to be absolutely YA appropriate and I think that this book knocked it out of the park with that.
It had a male/female and a male/male sex scene and in both consent was a really important factor and especially in the male/female sex scene there was a focus on asking your partner what they enjoy.

It also talked about the female main character owning a vibrator and masturbating AND the male main character masturbating and how this had previously been affected by him being chronically ill. I was truly impressed by these aspects being included as I find it really important to normalize these things.

“It’s easy to fall in love with someone who’s a master of their craft. Peter at the piano has an intensity I’ve always admired. An electricity, like if I touched him in the middle of a Rufus Wainwright song, he’d burn my hand.”

We also have Sophie’s sister, who is a teen mum and not only did I enjoy her as a character a lot, it was also great to see her relationship with Sophie and how they grew much closer and understood that they both individually have completely different struggles to deal with that are each valid in their own right.
In general both Sophie and Peter had super interesting family dynamics as well and the parents were very present in both of their point of views.

“He didn’t owe me his love, and I didn’t deserve it because of the sacrifices I made. That’s not a friendship. Peter and I were unbalanced for a long time.”

Overall, I am so very happy that this book exists and I definitely would want more recommendations for these kinds of stories.
This book portrays a super messy and unbalanced relationship but the issue is talked about and resolved in a way that does not make it questionable or problematic but simply an important addition to all the Contemporary Happily Ever Afters out there.

I definitely highly recommend this for anyone that loves strong relationship, friendship and family dynamics!

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“Now my heart is with a girl in a coffin in the ground. But that girl wanted me to be better, she wanted my heart to be in it, so I could keep running with her. So for her, I’ll try.”

Who I Was With Her is an incredibly powerful YA Contemporary about grief and figuring out what you want from life.

This story is about 17-year old Corinne, whose girlfriend, Maggie, suddenly dies in a car accident. But because both girls were still in the closet, nobody knew that they were in a relationship and so we follow Corinne as she tries to deal with this loss while nobody knows what Maggie meant to her.

So as you can tell from this synopsis, this is a very hard-hitting novel. The tone of this book is overall rather sad and melancholic and it is definitely not an easy read, so for sure be in the right headspace when going into this novel.
But it is also a very powerful read, that turns a devastating experience into a journey for Corinne to focus on herself and figure out what she really wants from life.

“I start to run down the hill, push myself as hard as I can. Running down this hill doesn’t feel quite like flying, not when I’m trying to pace myself, but it’s sure damn close. I just hope my wings don’t burn up in the sun.”

The grief depicted in this book is incredibly well done. Corinne feels like she no longer knows who she is without Maggie and she has trouble really defining for herself what not only the relationship but also this grief means for her when she can’t even talk about it with anyone or be open about the way she is feeling.

There is also a lot of guilt that Corinne deals with. Whenever she feels a second of happiness or she is laughing with friends, she immediately has thoughts about how she can’t believe she forgot about Maggie and her grief so easily.
And there is a lot of looking back to her relationship with Maggie and wondering about the way she behaved, how she should’ve reacted differently sometimes or certain things that she didn’t know about Maggie.
All those aspects add to a very nuanced and realistic depiction of grief.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the girl she saw me as. I loved her, I loved her, I loved her. I don’t know who I am without her. She wanted me to be all these big, grand things; she had these dreams for us and—That’s not me. I am not out and proud; I am scared out of my mind. Maggie wanted, so I didn’t have to.”

The only person who knew about Corinne and Maggie’s relationship was Maggie’s brother, Dylan. They have a really messy but interesting relationship in this book too and you can always feel all the anger and sadness from the grief flowing into their conversations. But at the same time, you can also see how they both know they are two of the people who knew Maggie best and they definitely bond over that way more than they ever have before her death.

Dylan is also the one who introduces Corinne to Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend. Now this is a storyline that honestly feels a little bit questionable in parts but ultimately also offers a lot of realistic aspects. Dylan hopes that Corinne can find some comfort with Elissa, as they have dated the same person and can lean on each other.. and they do, which quickly turns into there being some chemistry between the two.
This all happens not too long after Maggie’s death and throughout the book you are definitely questioning the nature of these feelings. I felt like this aspect was handled okay and was very much just another part of Corinne’s grieving process but I also wish it would’ve been explored more and especially sooner in the book.

Especially the power dynamic between the two was off sometimes. Corinne is 17 and still goes to high school while Elissa is 19 and at college and Elissa also reads older than 19 to me personally. On top of that, she was definitely placed in this book as someone that Corinne could lean on for support while dealing with her girlfriend’s death. While I understood where Corinne’s attraction and thoughts about Elissa came from, I really would’ve wanted for Elissa to be more of a sensible and responsible person in this scenario. Obviously she is also still quite young and grieving too and you can tell she has her doubts about this whole situation sometimes but I wish it would’ve been on-page a little bit more, especially when it feels like, again, her purpose in this book was to help Corinne with her grief. It just made me feel weird and slightly uncomfortable about their dynamics sometimes.

“I thought I didn’t have more tears left but I guess I do, because I’m crying into her shirt, because I don’t want her to lose me, either. I don’t want to be lost. ”

This story also very heavily deals with Corinne’s family relationship. Her parents are divorced and her mother struggles with alcoholism. While the divorce was a while ago, we can still see Corinne struggle with it and especially feeling like her dad just abandoned her mum and her alcohol issues, which Corinne now has to deal with herself.

Apart from the obvious sapphic storyline and Corinne being bisexual, we also have an asexual side-character, Julia, who figures out that she is asexual and finds this label for herself throughout the story. I thought that it was a really well-done element and showed that this is an aspect that can be easily packed into a side-storyline, while still being done with care.

In general, the friendship between Corinne and Julia, who is her best friend, was a really interesting and nuanced aspect of this book too. Their friendship definitely suffered in the past year because Corinne spend so much time with Maggie and also could never tell Julia what she was doing and so that definitely created a rift between the two. Within this book, they find their way back together and I very much liked seeing their development throughout.
They also had a short but important discussion about privilege, as Julia is a woman of colour, as is her boyfriend, but I think there is no description beyond Julia having “deep brown skin”.

On top of all that, this book obviously also has a huge focus on coming out and talks a lot about how different circumstances can really influence your experience with coming out. All the actual on-page coming out processes are super good experiences and show that it is also different for everyone but there are definitely discussions in this book that are quite tough when it comes to other people pressuring you into coming out or making you feel not valid for being scared to do so. I think that it was a well-done aspect and the discussions were always nuanced, where you could understand everyone’s POV but I definitely think that in part it very hard to read.

“This is my coming out. One person at a time. No big statement, no grand gesture. Only people I want to tell. Why should I come out the way everyone else wants me to?”

I also very much enjoyed the form of storytelling. We go back and forth in time, to when Corinne and Maggie met or had their first kiss and then back to the current times. This worked perfectly for this kind of book! Plus, all the chapters, but especially the ones in the past, where super short, which is honestly my favourite kind of chapters.

This book also talks about Corinne getting her period and masturbating and there is a sapphic sex scene (with an emphasis on consent) that is not explicit but still makes it very clear what is happening, which are all elements I am always glad to see in YA.

“I have stopped counting how long it’s been since she died. She deserves to be remembered, not measured by the days of my grief or how long it’s been since she left. She deserves to be remembered for who she was.”

Overall, this book just deals with so many different things, so many messy characters and relationships but I enjoyed reading about it all so much. There is a lot of guilt-tripping and forcing people to do stuff and not accepting what people want and changing who you are or what you want for another person.. but after finishing the novel you are left with a sense that all these characters have learned from their mistakes and really developed as people.
And that, ultimately, is all that I wanted as I was reading the book.

The aspects are very nuanced and I am deeply impressed with how many topics were packed into this short Contemporary novel.
If you can handle the tougher themes within this book, it definitely comes with a huge recommendations from me.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, car accident (off-page), grief, alcoholism, underage drinking/alcohol abuse.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“She played for the girls they used to be and the ones they were now, and all their fallen-apart pieces that had gotten lost or ruined or discarded along the way.”

This Is What It Feels Like is a really wonderful YA Contemporary, that has so many topics and issues packed into it.

At the centre of the story are three girls, Hanna, Jules and Dia. The three were in a band together for a long time but then two years before this story starts, a lot of things happened in their lives and they stopped making music together. The friendship between the three of them took a toll as well, although Jules and Dia remained best friends.

Jules is a Black lesbian and her love interest, Autumn, is fat and questioning her sexuality. I think that Dia is also Black but the book only mentions that she has deep-brown skin. She is also the mother of an almost 2-year old so this deals with raising a kid as a teen. Dia’s good friend and love interest, Jesse, is also Black. Hanna went to rehab for her alcohol abuse and has been sober for over a year when the story starts.

So as you can already tell, this book dealt with so many amazing and important topics and I thought everything was handled incredibly well. Because all three of them have alternating POVs, we see everybody’s perspective to all of the issues and it offers a really insightful and multi-layered discussion off all these things.

“Dia played a concert for her audience of one, under the clouds, and the moon winked in and out of sight, and she felt the anchor of the earth release her the slightest amount.”

I was really happy to see this book deal with different parent relationships. It was so refreshing to see the parents so involved. Dia’s parents are very supportive and help her raise her kid.
Hanna’s parents are super well portrayed too. They are worried about Hanna and her alcohol abuse, even after her being sober for so long. I loved the way you could tell that they were coming from a good place, even if it wasn’t received by Hanna that way or that, even when she does understand where they’re coming from, she eventually just started feeling suffocated. I thought it was a very important and well portrayed child-parent relationship.
Hanna’s sister, Molly, is also very involved and a lovely character. Seeing her relationship with Hanna, after everything they went through, was really precious.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teen mum. I feel like usually books that feature teenage pregnancy or being a teen mum are focused on that and it will be the main topic of the story and in that case it doesn’t really interest me. But seeing Dia and her relationship with her daughter was wonderful and really great to read. I also loved that it seems like most of her environment was pretty accepting. We never saw anyone make any inappropriate comments about her young pregnancy (although we know these comments do get made) and on the contrary, people seemed very supportive and I really enjoyed that.

Jules and her developing relationship with Autumn was another wonderful part of the novel. Seeing such a beautiful and wholesome f/f relationship in a book still gets me every time. There is also an incredibly well written sex scene between the two.
On top of that female masturbation is mentioned twice, although just in passing. But I’m always glad to see it in any YA as it is still a very taboo topic and truly shouldn’t be.

“But being drunk made her feel invincible, gave her cover for so many things. She said whatever she wanted, she did anything and everything that she got the urge to, and when she fucked up, she’d brush it off: ‘I was drunk! It’s no big deal.”

And then there’s Hanna’s alcohol abuse which might have been my favourite issue that was talked about in this novel. Now while I was never addicted to alcohol, I found so many of Hanna’s reasons as to why she drank and how it got so bad, incredibly relatable and seeing this in a YA and how much this could open some teen’s eyes? It was fantastic.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of alcohol, ESPECIALLY for teens. And as someone who grew up and lives in a country, where you can start drinking beer and wine with 16, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. While reading this novel, I thought a lot about how trivialized alcohol is. I remember a girl from my school who had to get her stomach pumped after a party and I thought a lot about how we talked about this back then, like it was just a funny mishap.. sometimes even like something to be proud of. Looking back at how this was handled back then absolutely haunts me until this day.

On top of all these topics and issues, that were handled so very well, this also had a great storyline about friendship and music and how it can bring people together and reunite them. I loved the portrayal of the bond that you form when you make music together, especially when it’s in your “formative” years. The way these girls found their way back together through music warmed my heart immensely.

“Her skin felt raw, too tight for her body, every movement testing her limits, every rub of her clothes burning. And this whole place felt too small to contain her, pushing back against her, and how dare it, how dare it try to put a limit on what she was feeling right now.”

­
And that is still not all. There is also the aspect of grief. And there is a wonderful m/f romance as well. And as I said, almost all of these topics get portrayed from different POVs. So while Hanna’s addiction is obviously important in her storyline, we also see the way Dia and Jules feel about it, the way it impacted their lives and the decisions that they made.

Honestly I can’t quite believe how many things were in this 400 page novel and I could probably write a 400 page novel about all of the things packed into this and how amazing they all were.
But I think you get the picture.

I’m really sad that this book never got the attention it deserved. It is a really beautiful summer-y Contemporary, filled with a lot of intense topics that all get handled well.
So please pack this onto your must-read list! It is so great and important and I hope many more YA books tackle issues in such an amazing and open way.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, alcohol addiction, grief.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“We’d done everything together since we were ten years old. I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I’d never wanted to imagine life any other way.”

The Secret of You and Me is a sapphic adult romance that tackles some very serious topics and issues, all packed into a beautiful second-chance romance.

This story revolves around two women, Nora and Sophie, who fell in love when they were teenagers but couldn’t be together due to the prejudices in their small hometown in Texas. When Nora, after 18 years of being away, comes back into town for her father’s funeral, the old stories of what happened start to get unravelled and Nora and Sophie have to navigate being in each other’s lives again.

I will say that I have read less sapphic adult romances than I would like but the ones that I have read, were mostly more on the rom-com spectrum. And while I absolutely love getting a sapphic rom-com, this novel tackled some more serious topics and I very much appreciated that.

It is hard to really talk about the in-depth aspects of this novel without giving too much away, as I do think that this is the kind of novel that really works best if you go into it knowing as little as possible, especially because a lot of things that happened 18 years ago only get slowly revealed throughout the story.

“I didn’t realize until I saw you at Mel’s that you’ve held my heart in the palm of your hand all these years. Right now, I’m offering you my heart, Sophie. My soul. Can you promise me a future? ”

We get to read from both Nora’s and Sophie’s point of view in this novel, which works incredibly well and I found their voices to be easily distinguishable. While Nora and Sophie grew up in the same town, they end up having very different experiences, due to Nora leaving town, and so it was very interesting and important for this novel to feature both of their perspectives.

Sophie has known for a while that she is a lesbian but only really confronts this feeling when Nora returns to town. She is married to a man and they have a daughter, who she loves very much and is really the main reason that she is with her husband.
This was easily my favourite aspect of this novel and one that I thought was handled with incredible nuance and care. Seeing Sophie’s journey with her sexuality is powerful and so important to portray.

We see some flashbacks of her realizing that she is gay and that, while she can recognize her husband is an attractive man, she is not actually attracted to him, but that she still loves him and their daughter.
But only in the course of this novel does Sophie actually confront these feelings for the first time and talks about it and comes out to people too.

This novel manages to shine a light on the experiences that many lesbians go through. Being with men, questioning their feelings and attraction towards them and even going as far as marrying and having kids with them. And I love that this novel showed that there can be reasons why lesbians have sex with men that have nothing do with their attraction to them or enjoying or wanting it. It doesn’t make them any less gay if the reasons are something like protecting themselves (from being outed, for example) or compulsory heterosexuality.
Seeing a woman in her mid-30s come to terms with her sexuality and finally realizing that she has a right to truly be who she is and to live happily out as a lesbian, even with having been with a man for a long time, was so good to see.

Sophie is a recovering alcoholic and this is a topic that gets talked about a lot in this novel as well. We get flashbacks of how Sophie and her family realized that she has an alcohol addiction and decided to go to an AA meeting and her sponsor is a very present side-character in this story.

“My body was barraged with tiny explosions of desire and, deep down, I grieved for all the years this had been missing from my life, that Sophie had been missing. I wanted her as I’d never wanted before, and when our lips met, I fell into her.”

On the other hand, Nora has lead quite a different life. When she left her hometown, she joined the military and has PTSD due to it. Nora definitely talks about her life in the military and how it has shaped her.
And living in DC, she has lived a life as an openly bisexual woman. She is in an open relationship with a woman called Alima, who is a closeted Muslim lesbian, married to a man.

There was a paragraph where Nora talked about what identifying as bisexual means to her and I very much enjoyed the discussion on how this is a label that, while it has one general definition, still will mean something different to the people identifying with it.
I will say that in this conversation, Nora said that to her it means “enjoying connections with both genders” and I honestly never thought I would ever have to read the term “both genders” again. Genders outside the binary exist and even if this was a small part, it is very disappointing for a queer novel to not acknowledge that!

“It’s good to see being in the military didn’t turn you butch.” “Depends on your definition of butch. One definition, my personal favorite, is being able to kill a man with your bare hands. In that regard yes, the military turned me butch.””

The relationship dynamics in this novel are all complicated and messy and I think that it is very important to know that a lot of this novel has (grey-area) cheating. I know that this is an aspect that is an absolute no-go for a lot of people and so I definitely find it important to mention that this is a topic that is very present in this book.
But again, everything in this novel is handled with a lot of nuance and care and this not an element that is used as some sort of shock-factor. There is a lot of history between all the characters involved in this story.

In some ways I did think the ending was quite easily resolved. The book did a lot of good, unpacking all kinds of different things all throughout it, and the ending almost felt a little too convenient, ignoring a lot of the issues that are still present, especially considering the overall tone of the book.
That said, this didn’t hinder my enjoyment, as all sapphics deserve happy endings, especially when it is way too often taken away from us, as this story perfectly portrays. Plus, books that are marketed as Romance, especially if they are queer too, should always have Happily Ever Afters!

“Because I want to be with the woman I love, the only person I’ve ever loved. I want to feel your skin against mine, to be reminded how beautiful making love can be when you’re with someone who you want to absorb into your very being because the thought of ever being without them fills you with sense of despair so complete, so bottomless, that you’re sure you’ll never smile, or laugh, or feel whole again. ”

Now, while I loved this story so very much, I do want to point out that it is not ownvoices. The author does not identify anywhere on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum and in the acknowledgements the author talks about the love story between these women coming together as she wrote it, with no initial intention to make this a sapphic romance.

I read an interview with the author and it very much seems like the author is in one way acknowledging that the process of falling in love is not different just because of the genders involved, while also being very aware of the individual struggles that same-sex couples will go through. I am also glad to hear that the author will be donating 10% of her royalties to the It Gets Better Project.

While none of these things influenced my personal opinion or enjoyment of this book (and I had no idea prior to reading it), I do find it important to point all of this out, so that every reader going into it is aware of this.

I definitely wish that especially a storyline like Sophie’s would’ve been written by an ownvoices author but from what I have read, both as far as interviews and the book itself, the author took so much care in writing this story and I do think it is well done, to the point where I am truly in awe of how well this was written, considering it is none of the author’s own experience at all.
But at the end of the day, I wanna leave the decision to every reader themselves and that is why I thought it important to mention this.

“I pulled her to me and kissed her, pouring into her every bit of admiration I had for her generous heart, gratitude for her courage, and hope for our future. ”

Overall, this was a very intense reading experience for me and I think that the trigger warnings and general tough topics of this novel should not be underestimated. While this book made me very happy because of the representation and themes involved, it was also not an easy read.

But if you can handle the themes and topics, I absolutely recommend this story. It was really beautiful to read about these two women finding their way back to each other and finally getting the happy ending they deserve.
The Secret of You and Me is a novel that I will carry in my heart for a long time.

Trigger and Content Warnings for PTSD (after military service), loss of a loved one, homophobia (including physical violence due to it, mentions of/being threatened with conversion therapy and homosexuality being called a mental illness), biphobia (immediately challenged), alcohol abuse, cheating, racism, chronically ill loved one, sexual harassment.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Well Played (Well Met #2) by Jen DeLuca

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ARC provided by Berkley Romance (thank you!)
Publication: September 22nd 2020 by Berkley

1.) Well Met ★★★★

Full disclosure: I do consider this author my friend, so there could be subconscious biases here, but this rating, this review, and these thoughts are honest and my own!

“It all started with a necklace.”

When I tell you that Ren Fest romances are maybe a kink of mine, I am being completely truthful. I grew up going to a renaissance faire in Michigan every summer for my whole life. It was always such a magical experience walking through the gate and feeling like I entered a completely new world, filled with magic and music and fae and I truly looked forward to it every summer! Now I’m much older, and I live in a very warm place, and you know… we have this whole pandemic going on, so Well Played was just the perfect romance escape for me.

The second book stars Stacey, who was the other tavern wench with Emily in book one! This book starts out at the end of the faire, and we quickly learn about Stacey’s friends with benefits situation she has going on with Dex, one of the brother in The Dueling Kilts band!

But with faire season coming to and end, and Dex and his band going to the next one, Stacey is thrust back into her life where she is a receptionist living in a studio apartment over her parents’ garage. After college, she had big dreams to move away from her childhood small town, and going to New York to pursue her passion for all things fashion, but her mother started having health complications and she felt like she was much more needed at home with her family.

Emily has a lot of exciting things going on after everything that happened in Well Met, and Stacey is helping her and her sister, April, plan many things! She is also taking part in both of their separate book clubs which are vastly different, and it just really warmed my heart, because we love a good bookstore setting too, am I right?

Stacey is very much feeling the pressure of society’s expectations because she is approaching her later twenties, and she is still very much single, and very much aware because of social media that her friends (who did move away form Willow Creek) are starting their lives and even their own families. So one night, after missing her summer fling a little too much, and maybe drinking a little too much wine as well, she writes to Dex via the band’s facebook DMs. And after waking up slightly mortified, she realizes that she received a very nice message back.

“A watched pot never boils, and a watched phone never… lights up with a text. Something like that.”

After this, we get to see Stacey live this year of her life corresponding with maybe the love of her life, while also prepping so much for the next summer’s Ren Fest! But as the dates go by, and the anticipations builds and builds, she starts questioning a lot of things. (Somewhat spoiler alert and warning: do not be like me, get too curious for your own good, and look at the cover of this book to see the dude’s hair color!)

That’s pretty much all I can say without giving anything else away! I will say that I didn’t like how Stacey had to do almost everything, even though she is valid, I just wish the love interest would have proven himself (and his sincerity with his mistakes) a lot more in every situation. Truly, Stacey was a bit too good for him, in my humble opinion. Also, I feel like at times Stacey would feel a bit dated, or not like she was twenty-seven. No one that age is #PSLs in 2020, I’m so sorry baby.

But if you’re looking for a cute romance, with some amazing settings, and some really swoon-worthy banter, then I really suggest picking this one up! Also, Stacey is plus-sized and talks about her body image and her journey with her confidence a lot and I really loved that as well. Also, this has a really great subplot about family expectations and how hard it can be to leave your family, especially when you feel like they need you! Yet, how it is also really important to chase your own dreams and live the life you want to live, regardless of how unconventional it may seem to others!

Overall, this was just such a fun read! And I truly believe Jen’s settings are a tier above. Also, the next book, Well Matched, is Mitch and April’s book and when I tell you the thought of them together makes me banshee scream with love, whew.

Trigger and Content Warnings: talk of loss of a loved one in the past (to cancer), talk of difficulty conceiving children in the past, talk of heart attacks in the past, a lot of talk and thoughts of body image, anxiety depiction, and catfishing.

4
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Loveless by Alice Oseman | Drumsofautumn Review

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Before I go into any of this review, let me say that I am very aware that this book has made so many people feel incredibly seen, for many for the first time, and I am so very happy about that. But I want to share my personal experience and perspective as honestly as possible and I do not like to hold back when I think something is genuinely doing more harm than good. I not only found many things portrayed in it not well represented whatsoever but this book was really hurtful to me personally in the way that it portrayed one experience as THE aromantic asexual experience. And I hope that this community can respect my opinion without me disclosing my own orientation.
Also this will have mild spoilers, so I can actually go into detail.

Loveless tried to do a lot of good but ended up just being harmful, hurtful and offensive, invalidating literally everyone that doesn’t have the exact same experience as the main character.

This is one of those books that shows that ownvoices does not necessarily mean a book can do no harm or has perfect representation. This book would’ve immensely benefited from having sensitivity readers for the other identities portrayed AND for the aroace representation too, especially as aromantic and asexual is such a huge spectrum.

I think that a lot of the questionable things in this book could’ve been avoided by having gone through a sensitivity read by someone who, for example, is asexual but not sex-repulsed.

And by that I do not mean that this book needed to be relatable to everybody on the aroace spectrum but the least it could’ve done is make more of an effort to explain the differences and not invalidate everybody who is anywhere else on the spectrum. This identity gets explained literally once and when the main character, Georgia, actually does some research herself, she quickly logs off because she finds it too overwhelming. And while that is valid, is it just not enough for a book like this.

Georgia is clearly sex-repulsed but the word does not get used on-page ONCE and I just think that this is a problem. A sex-repulsed experience exists but it is not THE aroace experience, even tough this book sadly ends up portraying it like that.

And I get that this is a story focused on figuring your sexuality out but it really took 45% for us to get to that ONE explanation of what asexual and aromantic means. Basically no one had ever heard of this term before, except Georgia, who didn’t know what it was, even though she clearly spends a lot of time on the internet (and NOT the straight corners of it). It quite frankly seemed very convenient but made all of this unbelievable.
And what would’ve been so wrong with the character understanding these words earlier in the story but still coming to terms with the fact that that is how she feels and identifies? Instead we have to go through this character bulldozing her way through literally everybody else’s feelings, experiences and identities in order to figure this out.

But this book does not only have an aroace coming out story. It also has the storyline of Rooney, Georgia’s roommate, who she becomes friends with very quickly, figuring out she is pansexual. And we get so little pansexual representation in books, that it’s especially harmful when the little rep we do have perpetuates a harmful stereotype like it does in this case.

This character is portrayed as someone who seems very sex positive but throughout this book we find out that she basically only slept with people as a coping mechanism for her feelings and emotions that she doesn’t want to deal with. And I am not saying that this experience can’t be valid but, first of all, this book really needed this perspective of sex being something that many people do enjoy and can do without any commitment, and, again, all of this just perpetuated an already harmful stereotype without ever talking about it.

And with an identity that is so little represented, when you want to feature a full coming out story of a character (even if it is a side-character), you need to do a better job at explaining what pansexuality actually means, ESPECIALLY if you also constantly put pan and bi in the same bracket. We never once got an explanation of what pansexuality actually means or what the difference between bi and pan is. Quote: “She said she just doesn’t think she really has a gender preference and that felt like the right word for her!!!!” That is not enough if you feature a pansexual coming-out story so prominently.

And do not even get me started on when Georgia said “stop erasing my identity” in a conversation with Rooney about falling in love, when she could’ve brought up a very legit discussion on aromanticism or the difference between romantic and sexual attraction to her. Instead, she treats Rooney in the dismissive way she was so tired of being treated by everyone else.

I even would’ve found it completely valid to have this portrayed as an experience that is realizing “oh wait, this is not how everybody else feels?” instead of a “finding people you relate to”-experience, but the main character’s thoughts towards everybody else were constantly shaming them. It is okay to be sex-repulsed but you can’t place that on everyone else when sex is such a natural part of many people’s lives and something that they enjoy.

You cannot yell at and shame your friend, who you know has a lot of sex and just shared personal things with you, like what gender she fantasizes having sex with while she masturbates. Quote: “‘This has to be a fucking joke,’ I blurted. Rooney paused. ‘What?’ I sat up, pushing the covers off my body. ‘Everyone has to be fucking JOKING.’ ‘What d’you–’ ‘People are really out there just … thinking about having sex all the time and they can’t even help it?’ I spluttered. ‘People have dreams about it because they want it that much? How the–I’m losing it. I thought all the movies were exaggerating, but you’re all really out there just craving genitals and embarrassment. This has to be some kind of huge joke.’”

Also I wonder how a book that focuses so heavily on sexuality, has a super prominent non-binary side character AND a character that comes out as pansexual, could still READ SO BINARY! No one ever ACTUALLY acknowledged the existence of there being more than two genders.

And the fact that Sunil, the one non-binary character, wears a pin that says “he/they” but never once gets addressed with they/them pronouns, not even by their BEST FRIEND, is on another level too. Why introduce them using they/them pronouns when you are not going to use it? Genuinely makes me wonder who edited this book too.

There is a lot to say on how the people of colour get treated in this book as well. Like for example the way that Sunil, who is Indian, is only there to do all kinds of (emotional) labour for the main character. Or how Goergia’s best friend, Pip, who is Latinx, is portrayed like a stereotype. Or how terribly Georgia treats her throughout this entire book. Or how she says “I would choose to be gay” to her face after they just had a talk about how it hasn’t been easy for Pip to be a Latina and lesbian.. seriously, I could go on and on and on. I would encourage you all to check out Maëlys’s review, if you haven’t already, because she talks about this (and many other things too) in great detail.

And while the book definitely tried to put out the message that platonic love can be just as or even more valuable than romantic love, it just missed the mark. This is a message that I always find so important and absolutely love seeing portrayed in books but here it was almost like Georgia felt superior and like she was the only who could truly and fully love someone platonically because she would never develop romantic feelings or sexual attraction.

This book could’ve used this opportunity to talk about the existence of platonic relationships and how there are people who live as non-romantic couples.. instead it just ended in this weird triangle situation with Georgia, Rooney and Pip, introducing no boundaries whatsoever, and I cannot even get into the mess that all of that was.
And the fact that Rooney having been in a toxic relationship is getting used as an opportunity to say that platonic relationships are better than romantic relationships, is something I can’t even begin to unpack either.

I could write many more paragraphs for many more hours on this book, for example about the time when Georgia just picks up her roommate’s phone without her consent and the roommate is just like “okay no prob”. Or when the lesbian character is the one who says “how do you know you won’t find someone one day?”, so Georgia gets to be the one to say “how would you feel if I said this towards you” and on and on and on.

I’m not saying characters can’t be flawed or unlikeable or fuck up. But this book is one big fuck-up. From the way Georgia behaves and treats other people to the things that this book portrays and talks about in general. Considering all the things that this main character says and does and thinks throughout this book, there is just not enough repercussions for it. There is not enough people calling Georgia and her bulldozing behaviour out and it is not okay.

At the end of the day, despite knowing how many people saw themselves in this book and the main character’s experience, I simply cannot recommend this book whatsoever. A book that shames and invalidates everybody else’s experiences to further a main character’s journey is just not a good book.

If you’re looking for something else to read instead, I highly recommend Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman for a book with amazing aroace questioning rep without invalidating anybody else!

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨